For Valour: Captain Edwin Swales’ Victoria Cross

Portrait of Captain Edwin Swales

In the second of a new series of blogs, we’ll be taking a deep dive into the stories of the 29 RAF personnel whose valour earned them the Victoria Cross. This post covers Captain Edward Swales who earnt the Victoria Cross on 23 February.

Location: February 23rd 1945, over Germany
Who: Captain Edwin Swales (6101V) VC DFC, South African Air Force VC 3 July 1915 – 23 February 1945

On 23 February 1945, Captain Swales was Captain of Lancaster PB 538 ‘M’ of 582 Squadron, Path Finder Force, based at RAF Little Staughton. Swales was appointed Master Bomber for a 374 aircraft raid on Pforzheim, taking off at 1636 hrs. Captain Swales was the sole member of the South African Air Force to serve in Path Finder Force.

Avro Lancaster Mk. III (PB538 60-M), starboard front view on ground, with crew standing beneath nose, 22 February 1945.

Avro Lancaster Mk. III (PB538 60-M), starboard front view on ground, with crew standing beneath nose, 22 February 1945.

NOTE: the London Gazette gives his rank as Captain but his Commonwealth War Graves Commission grave marker records Major.

The LONDON GAZETTE reported on 24 April 1945:

The KING has ‘been graciously pleased to confer the VICTORIA CROSS on the under-mentioned officer in recognition of most conspicuous bravery:.— Captain Edwin SWALES, D.F.C. S.A.A.F., 582 Sqn. (deceased). Captain Swales was ” master bomber ” of a force of aircraft which attacked Pforzheim on the night of February 23rd, 1945. As ” master bomber,” he had the task of locating the target area with precision and of giving aiming instructions to the main force of bombers following in his wake.
Soon after he had reached the target area he was engaged by an enemy fighter and one of his engines was .put out of action. His rear guns failed. His crippled aircraft was an easy prey to further attacks. Unperturbed, he carried on with his allotted task; clearly and precisely he issued aiming instructions to the main force. Meanwhile the enemy fighter closed the range and fired again. A second engine of Captain Swales’ aircraft was put out of action. Almost defenceless, he stayed over the target area issuing his aiming instructions until he was satisfied that the attack had achieved its purpose. It is now known that the attack was one of the most concentrated and successful of the war. Captain Swales did not, however, regard his mission as completed. His aircraft was damaged. Its speed had been so much reduced that it could only with difficulty be kept in the air. The blind-flying instruments were no longer working. Determined at all costs to prevent his aircraft and crew from falling into enemy hands, he set course for home. After an hour he flew into thin-layered cloud. He kept his course by skilful flying between the layers, but later heavy cloud and turbulent air conditions were met. The aircraft, by now over friendly territory, became more and more difficult to control; it was losing height steadily. Realising that the situation was desperate Captain Swales ordered his crew to bale out. Time was very short and it required all his exertions to keep the aircraft steady while each of his crew moved in turn to the escape hatch and parachuted to safety. Hardly had the last crew-member jumped when the aircraft
plunged to earth. Captain Swales was found dead at the controls. Intrepid in the attack, courageous in the face of danger, he did his duty to the last, giving his life that his comrades might live.

The VC medal

His Victoria Cross is held by the National Museum of Military History, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Museum Archive contains a number of maps and navigation logs used by Captain Swales’ navigator on raids over Germany.

Graves of Edwin Swales

He rests in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Leopoldsburg War Cemetery.


 Citation: London Gazette 24 April 1945

 Additional biographical details: For Valour: The Air VCs Chaz Bowyer, Grub Street Publishing.



People: RAF Museum Archive

Grave headstone: The War Graves Photographic Project (

Lancaster: RAF Museum

About the Author

Norman Brice: Volunteer

Volunteer Norman Brice

It all started very many years ago when, lying in my pram, I was awoken by what I later knew as Spitfires on their finals to RAF Biggin Hill, just a handful of miles away. As a schoolboy I was captivated by the annual September Battle of Britain Days at Biggin Hill with a vast range of visiting aircraft, including all three V-Bombers in gleaming anti-flash white.

Fast forward very many years past retirement I joined the RAF Museum London as a volunteer as a Vulcan and Cold War tour guide.